For millions of young women across South Africa, having their ‘monthly cycle’ isn’t only a nuisance but also vastly detrimental to their education due to the cost of sanitary products. 

Imagine you are back in grade 8. Everything is exciting and new and high school seems like an adventure. Now imagine you miss five days of the month because you’re sick. And then you have to catch up all of the work that you missed. The next month you’re sick again. And there goes five more days of learning. Every month you have to stay home because you’re sick. And before you know it, you’ve missed 60 school days in one year.

Without even knowing what you are supposedly sick with, that sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Missing out on your education due to something you can’t control. Now add nausea, crippling stomach cramps that radiate to your legs and back, vomiting, diarrhoea and headaches that seem to last for days. And to top it all off you feel disgusting, fat and super insecure.

This is a reality for millions of girls across SA

While this may sound like a nightmare to you, to over 7 million young women across South Africa this is their harsh reality. Yes. 7 million women (out of about 9 million nation wide) have to miss school each month due to their menstrual cycle – one of the most natural things there is about being a woman. Just by being a woman, they’re  put at an immediate academic disadvantage . These women can’t afford the proper sanitary items or are forced to use unsafe methods (such as newspapers and cloths) to cope with their cycle.

Why is this even happening?

Sanitary products are too expensive and therefore inaccessible for many South African women. While the government provides free condoms in every province, there is no nationwide movement to provide free sanitary pads. While sex is a conscious decision, having a menstrual cycle is inescapable and unavoidable. Yet there are no means or funding for women to access the necessary products.

KwaZulu Natal’s health department recently announced that they would provide free sanitary pads to over 3000 schools in the province. The initiative is aimed to reduce the amount of female leaners dropping out of school due to their menstrual cycle. There are various NGOs trying to fix the problem as well, but this is not nearly enough to eradicate the problem. The lack of countrywide funding and awareness only feeds into this dilemma.

The light amidst the suffering

 There are a few champions beside NGOs trying to repair the problem. Like Pontsho Pilane, a Mail & Guardian journalist. Last year she presented a proposal to Parliament that called for the introduction of free pads and tampons across the country. Beyond this, MPs argued in April 2016 for VAT to be removed from pads. This may be a step in the right direction but it doesn’t aid those at the base of the problem – the removal of VAT is not drastic enough and would not benefit learners who cannot afford pads in the first place. This would only aid those who can already afford them. 

Sanitary pad companies are also starting to take action. Recently, Kotex went to Rhodes University to hand out free pads to those who need them. The university’s SRC works in conjunction with the company to collect pads for those who do not have the means to get them.

Let’s take action

 It’s no secret that women in South Africa are still disadvantaged due to nothing more than their gender. Gender based violence; rape and the cultural notion that women should stay at home are obstacles every woman faces – even in this modern day and age.

 The enrolment of women in higher education is on the rise, the subgroup of black rural women still remains left behind. Statistics estimate that approximately 23% of black South African women have had no education, and 28% are illiterate. This is way too high and we need to do something to stop this.

In order to change this, we should begin to put immense pressure on the government and society, as a whole, to raise awareness and funds t begin to eradicate this problem. It is unfair that young girls cannot go to school due to something they cannot control. Education is vital. Hygiene is vital. And the plight of the 7 million young girls across South Africa needs to be heard

This Women’s Day let’s unite together and give education the girls that really, really need and deserve it. Next time you go to the pharmacy or grocery store, grab a few extra packets of sanitary pads. Dischem’s nationwide have boxes for this exact reason.

EduConnect 2Cents

Dischems across South Africa have boxes at their entrances for people to donate sanitary pads. It’ll cost you an extra R30 to help 2 girls control their menstrual cycles for a month. It seems small and pointless, it’s only 2 young women. But if everyone did this, we could, in unity, help millions of women across South Africa get an education and fight poverty.

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